West Side Fire Claims 3-Year-Old Boy

Relative says space heater to blame

Monday, Nov 8, 2010  |  Updated 9:58 PM CDT
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A fire in a Pilsen apartment building takes the life of a 3-year-old boy, and critically injures two other people.

A fire in a Pilsen apartment building takes the life of a 3-year-old boy, and critically injures two other people.

A 3-year-old boy is dead and four people -- including two firefighters -- were injured in a Saturday afternoon fire in the Pilsen neighborhood that also left 20 people homeless.

The 3-year-old boy has been identified as Michael Cruz, of the 1700 block of W. Cullerton Street, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. He was pronounced dead at Saint Anthony Hospital.

Also injured were the boy’s father, Michael Cruz Sr., and 1-year-old sister, family members said. One firefighter suffered a back injury and was taken to University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, while another injured a shoulder and was treated and released from Mount Sinai Hospital, officials said.

Three other children were inside the building when the fire started but weren’t seriously hurt, officials said.

A still-and-box alarm and an EMS Plan 1 response -- which automatically sends five ambulances to the scene -- was initiated at 4:18 p.m. for the fire in the four-story building, Fire Media Affairs spokesman Richard Rosado said.

The fire was on the second, third and fourth floors, and spread to a coach house in the rear of the property, Rosado said. The front of that building was damaged.

The boy was found in a rear bedroom on the second floor, Rosado said.

Jose Lopez, Michael Cruz Sr.’s brother, said he was at the mall with his wife and their seven children when he got a call that their apartment building was on fire.

“We flew home,” said Lopez, who lived on the third floor. But Lopez got there too late to save his nephew, his two dogs or any of the family’s belongings.

“Maybe if I had been here, I could have helped them get out,” he said. “We lost everything. We have nothing left.”

Lopez described his nephew as an outgoing boy who enjoyed playing baseball and football with his cousins.

Michael Cruz Sr., a DJ who mentored neighborhood kids and encouraged them to stay out of gangs, was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. His 1-year-old daughter, Kayla, was taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in critical condition. Both suffered smoke inhalation and burns.

Both firefighters’ injuries were non-life-threatening.

Next-door neighbor Tom Zummo said he saw two of Michael Cruz’ daughters standing outside the building, crying. Cruz then emerged from the building and collapsed.

Firefighters “were pumping on his chest, trying to revive him,” Zummo said. “I grabbed his hand and said, ‘Hang in there, Mike.’ ”

Moments later, Zummo said, “I saw the back of a fireman with a child in his arms.”

The fire was extinguished at 5:20 p.m.

The American Red Cross said 20 people from five families were displaced.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, though Jose Lopez said it was caused by a space heater in his brother’s second-floor apartment.

A smoke detector was found in the hallway of the building, but it was not known if it was functioning.

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